Police read student journalist’s notes

DYlan C. RoberstonStudent journalist Dylan C. Robertson was taking photos of police on the University of Toronto’s campus during the G20 when he was searched and questioned about the contents of his backpack, his notes and every single photo on his camera. All photos by Dylan Robertson.
Police on UofT campus
UPDATE: One of our keen readers read this story and realized she actually had Dylan’s police search on tape. Watch it here.

I am an Associate News Editor with The Varsity, the largest newspaper at the University of Toronto. Sunday morning of the G20 I was heading south across campus to meet with my editor. We’d heard about police activity on campus near Bancroft Avenue and were going to meet and check it out.

Approaching the intersection of Bloor Street W and St. George Street on the northeast corner, I saw a pack of thirteen police with bicycles positioned on the southeast corner in front of U of T’s Woodsworth College Residence. I took pictures as I crossed towards them, six shots in all.

When I passed by they asked to speak with me. I presented my passport and was asked to stand next to a tree surrounded by six Toronto Police officers. On an adjacent tree a man in his twenties sat handcuffed with white plastic ty-raps. The time was 11:15 a.m.

One officer took my bag while three others questioned me. I explained that I was reporting with The Varsity and was going to meet my boss. They asked if I knew about protests happening. When I asked if they only meant on campus, an officer told me to “stop playing dumb.”

A policeman took my address and phone number. I was then interrogated on every item in my bag except my lunch bag and sweater.

After thoroughly questioning me on my eyedrops, wilted scarf (both potential protection from tear gas, which Toronto cops used for the first time the previous evening) and my recorder, they examined every photo on both my cameras.
Police on U of T campus
I was asked to identify people in many photos, including personal photos that were weeks old. I also had to explain why I’d taken photos of my own books and kitchenware (I was moving and planned to sell them online.)

Things got tense when they saw photos of Huntsville, site of the G8. I explained I was visiting my grandmother’s cottage in Muskoka two weeks ago. After seeing photos of my family in Hunstville they calmed down slightly.

They asked why I was downtown the day before and I explained that I was reporting on the protests, especially around campus. They didn’t seem to believe me and opened my reporter’s notebook. They asked why I’d taken so many notes on the cops. I explained that I’d written a full article on the subway the night before. They didn’t like the headline that was written, “Riot police storm onto campus,” and read the whole thing.

They asked why I brought two mobile phones, I answered that one was off-service but had all my contacts, the other I was borrowing for the month. They read all sent and received text messages, including tweets I’d sent from the day before, before searching the phone’s contact list. Upon finding a contact titled “arrest,” they freaked out. I explained it was a hotline number for anyone arrested needing legal defense.

When they asked why I might be arrested, I mentioned that many professional journalists had been. One cop replied that I shouldn’t be in any area where arrests could take place. Another cop then quipped that I’d soon have a chance to use the number. When I asked if I was being arrested, he said “there’s your ride,” pointing at the approaching court services paddywagon.

At this point my voice got shaky and I explained/begged that I was trying to co-operate as much as possible and did not mean any harm.

They told me I was part of the problem – they were all on guard because we were causing havoc in the streets. In the end, I wasn’t arrested. They said I was too smart to be in the area, that I didn’t belong here and that it was dangerous because of riots. They told me to go home. The handcuffed man was placed in the paddywagon.

Before I left, an officer told me that they had all of my contact information and that if I showed up in a photo where a serious incident happened, they would “go after” and find me.

When I got on the subway, I tweeted about my near-arrest and wrote down everything that happened in my notebook. I feel disappointed after being blackmailed into leaving. I would’ve gotten badge numbers and other information, but I was certain any questions would have landed me in the detention centre.

Dylan C. Robertson is the associate editor for University of Toronto student newspaper The Varisty. You can follow him on Twitter.